Catching Fries: What Exactly Is In The Course Of My Employment?

Dec 30, 2015 | Compensability

Greeley workers’ compensation lawyers and Denver workers’ compensation lawyers will tell you many states have a loose definition of what kinds of activities are conceivably within an employee’s job responsibilities. While workers can only receive benefits when they’re injured on the job in the course of their employment, different states have different definitions of “in the course of employment.”

Virginia, for example, has a strict rule about what an employee’s course of employment is. It requires the employee to be in a place where he or she might reasonably be expected to be, while he or she is reasonably fulfilling the duties of his or her employment, and within the period of his or her employment. This is called the actual risk test. Many states have broader definitions of what arises out of the course of an employee’s employment but each state has the right to decide its own definition.

A recent case appealed in Virginia actually hit on this question. While Greeley workers’ compensation lawyers would not be able to use this case to persuade courts to rule a certain way, the case itself involved a strange injury under unusual circumstances.

Janis Cooper used to work at McDonald’s in Virginia. She was a store manager but when her store closed, she was moved to a different store and had to work under a different manager. Her new duties included serving customers, cleaning parts of the store, loading and unloading trucks, and lifting and moving heavy product. In 2013, Ms. Cooper filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits for a neck injury she suffered while working in the drive-through. When a bag of fries was dropping, she jerked to keep them from falling and tweaked her trapezius muscle so badly, she cried and couldn’t finish her shift.

Related: If I am injured outside the state is my injury covered by Colorado Workers’ Compensation?

Most Denver workers’ compensation lawyers will tell you to report an injury as soon as it is suffered. In this case, Ms. Cooper did not report the injury right away. She waited a few days to report the injury in the hopes that it would go away on its own. After treating with different doctors through the rest of the year and into the next year, she was awarded benefits after the case went to trial. Her employer appealed the decision because it said leaning down didn’t fit Virginia’s higher test for deciding if an injury was sustained during the course of an employee’s employment.

Colorado has a different standard from Virginia but employees’ injuries are always questioned. Unfortunately, employers tend to consider any claims against their workers’ compensation insurance as a personal matter. Ms. Cooper ended up receiving her benefits in 2015, so the story ended well for her. The court found her bending down to try to keep the fries off the floor as part of her employment because part of her assessment as an employee had to do with reducing waste and prompt customer service. She received benefits for her lost wages, had her medical care mostly paid for, and will receive benefits for the rest of her life because she was effectively disabled as a result of her injury.

Employers sometimes take workers’ compensation claims personally, which may lead people to try to live with their losses and injuries sustained at work. However, if businesses expose workers to conditions and expectations that lead to injuries, employees have a positive responsibility to bring cases regarding injuries they received. Employees should feel comfortable speaking up when it’s necessary for themselves but if they don’t, they risk exposing future employees to the same unsafe conditions. In order to maintain a positive climate in a company, people must speak up when issues arise.

Workers’ Compensation can be difficult, confusing, and very complex. Kaplan Morrell has helped thousands of injured workers since 1997 get the benefits they deserve. Contact us here or call us at303-780-7329 for your free consultation.

Source: Gene Forbes Enters. v. Cooper, 2015 Va. App. LEXIS 195 (Va. App., 2015).